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Palm, Motorola to build PDA-equipped cellphone

Is there a Symbian connection?

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Palm and Motorola are to merge the cellphone and the PDA and jointly market a co-branded phone-cum-organiser the year after next, the two companies will announce today.

Motorola isn't the first phone company to build the PalmOS into a cellphone - that honour surely goes to Qualcomm and its pdQ handset. Qualcomm sold its phone business to Kyocera earlier this year, and Kyocera continues to sell the pdQ, having also acquired Qualcomm's PalmOS licence.

Given there's no great technological hurdles to be overcome in integrating Palm and cellphone technology, why is Motorola taking to long to ship? Early 2002 is hardly just round the corner. Essentially, Motorola appears to be awaiting the emergence of next-generation cellular networks. The handset will be tri-band GSM, but Motorola also said it will be compatible with next-generation, packet-based networks.

Motorola is, of course, a member of the Symbian alliance, set up to develop and promote PDA pioneer Psion's Epoc 32 operating system as the basis for smartphones. Ericsson, for example, recently launched a phone-cum-organiser running on Epoc. Motorola senior VP Leif Soderberg claimed there was no conflict between the company's support for Symbian and its decision to use the PalmOS.

"This doesn't impact Symbian - we continue to have a relationship with Symbian," told US newswires.

Yet the long time between announcement and phone availability comes back to us. There's been some talk of a merger between Symbian and Palm technologies, along the lines of a Palm UI sitting on top of Epoc as a core OS - an experiment currently being driven by Symbian member and Palm investor Nokia. PalmOS isn't yet a 32-bit OS - it runs on Motorola's 16-bit Dragonball chip - but 32-bit is clearly where Palm wants to go. It certainly needs to, if it's to increase the power of the platform. It also needs to improve the OS' core features, such as multitasking - functionality that Epoc provides right now.

It's not hard to see why Palm might be tempted to cut a deal with Symbian, especially when encouraged by the likes of Motorola and Nokia, both of whom are investors in Palm and Symbian members. ®

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